Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the Garry Marshall’s sitcom “Mork & Mindy.” As a kid from the X-Generation watching this television program in 1978 through 1982, I learned such catch phrases as “Nanu Nanu” and “Shaz-Bot.”
February of 1978, Robin Williams first appeared as the extraterrestrial Mork in the “Happy Days” fifth season episode “My Favorite Orkan.” He comes to earth looking for a specimen to take back to his home planet Ork and decides on humdrum Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard). His successful portrayal of the Orkan from that single episode with “Happy Days” fans launched him his own TV sitcom “Mork & Mindy” in the fall season.
In the one-hour pilot, Mork is sent down from his planet Ork in an eggshell rocket to Earth. Because of his humor, he is considered an outcast by his humorless culture, which had done away with emotions centuries ago.
After landing in a forest area of Boulder, Colorado, he breaks out of the eggshell rocket and meets pretty journalism major Mindy McConnell (Pam Dawber), who was left stranded in the woods by her date. She assumes he’s a Catholic priest, because he’s wearing his suit backward unknowingly.
He escorts her back to her apartment, where she quickly discovers he’s a space alien from the planet Ork. He informs her that he’s come to earth to study humankind’s customs. She agrees to assist him in his mission and allows him to stay with her.
Mindy McConnell works as a music store clerk in her father and maternal grandmother’s retail store. Widower Frederick McConnell (Conrad Janis) doesn’t approve of his single daughter’s modern living arrangement with Mork. However, elderly Cora Hudson (Elizabeth Kerr) has no problems with her granddaughter’s new house guest, who lives in her attic. Before long, they learn that Mork comes from another planet.
Mork is also befriended by an African-American kid named Eugene (Jeffrey Jacquet), who was a music student of Mindy’s maternal grandmother. Also, another friend of Mork’s is eccentric Exidor (Richard Donner), who talks to imaginary people and recruits the space alien into his craziness of his strange theories.
Such fun antics come out of this sitcom. Watching Mork drink liquid substance from his finger or sitting on his face. Each week, he comes to an understanding of earth people and reports back to his superior Orson (Ralph James) through mental telepathy. You never see his Orkan boss, but hear his voice only.
Halfway through the season, Mork and Mindy’s neighbor Mr. Bickley (Tom Poston) moves into the Victorian house that was converted into apartments. The unconventional couple has problems, at first, dealing with their grumpy downstairs neighbor.
At the end of the first season, “Mork & Mindy” was a top- rated show, but the producers messed with the success. Conrad Janis and Elizabeth Kerr were written out and replaced with a forgettable much younger cast. Also, Jeffrey Jacquet, who played the African American kid Eugene, doesn’t return for any further seasons. New storyline plots try to tackle more political issues, but fail miserably in the ratings.
By the end of the second season, Conrad Janis is brought back as Mindy’s dad, Mr. McConnell, to increase the ratings.
In the third season, Conrad Janis is fully restored in his role. In one touching episode, Mindy has trouble dealing with the fact that her father is going to remarry and has a flashback scene from her childhood, where she learns her mother isn’t coming back and gone to heaven. Finally, she copes with the reality of her father’s new wife.
Near the end of this season, Elizabeth Kerr comes back as Mindy’s maternal grandmother. She’s fully restored to the role at the opening of the fourth and final season. However, “Mork & Mindy” isn’t a top-rated show anymore.
In an attempt to save the sitcom from cancellation, comedian Jonathon Winters is introduced as the couple’s newborn child Mearth. On Ork, Orkans’ children are born elderly and become younger as they grow older. Winters had a stand-up comedy routine playing a small child, which made him perfect for the part.
Fans lost further touch with this fantasy element of the sitcom with its ratings failing. It was eventually cancelled and didn’t return for the fall season of 1982. I believe Williams’ greatest gift to the American TV viewers was the first season of “Mork & Mindy.”